Jodie Williams, a teacher at Bell’s School for People Under Six in Fletcher, recently received a Henderson County award for supporting student health and wellness through gardening. But with many students learning online due to COVID-19, Williams and other local educators are digging deep to keep their school gardens viable.
Three years out from the closure of the state’s only USDA-inspected plant for independent farmers, more than 200 North Carolina farms are processing their own poultry. But due to the extra labor and time requirements, many producers statewide are still putting less pastured poultry on the market now than they were in 2017.
Elmore rode a variety of routes around Leicester and north Buncombe County, beginning and ending at his own doorstep at Thatchmore Farm in Leicester. “It started off pretty slow — maybe 30 miles a week — and worked up to over 100 miles a week,” he says, noting that he ended the tour with a 100-mile day.
The Rev. Brent La Prince Edwards says that with gatherings now happening virtually, the COVID-19 pandemic offers an opportunity for his church to embark on a $571,000 renovation project without displacing worship services and other events.
The revision comes thirteen years after the county Board of Commissioners first adopted the plan and reflects myriad changes to Buncombe’s agricultural sector, from the vibrant expansion of its direct-to-consumer markets to the gradual evaporation of its commodity dairies.
The divorced dad and entrepreneur recently reconfigured his office layout to include a dedicated educational space for his two school-aged children.
Roughly 10 small processors are available for all of North Carolina’s local livestock farmers. With higher overall demand due to COVID-19 and commodity beef producers leaning on the local supply chain in their transition to direct-market sales, some farmers can’t get meat processed until the spring of 2021.
A late June report from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association found that 77% of growers reliant on agritourism had seen reduced income since the start of COVID-19. But as the pandemic continues, Western North Carolina’s farms are finding safe, creative ways to share the agricultural experience with visitors.
Kevin Bischof is in high demand. Now in his 13th year as a ranger with the North Carolina State Parks, he’s transitioning from serving as superintendent of Mount Mitchell State Park to assuming the same role at Grandfather Mountain State Park. But COVID-19 is delaying the hiring of his replacement, so he’s juggling both jobs.
“I feel like our relationships got a lot deeper, because we were holding Zoom meetings in our living rooms. We got to see a different side of [the students].”
Although gleaning dinner from nature inherently offers some freedom from the social framework, COVID-19’s disruptions still reached many locals who normally take to the outdoors in spring to gather ramps, morels and other seasonal morsels.
Instead of a packed house, musician April Bennett and local hip-hop band Lyric played to a nearly empty space at the Orange Peel for the May 15 livestream of Downtown After 5. “It was definitely weird playing in one of the biggest rooms in the city with no people in it except for the staff who were recording it,” she remarks with a laugh. “But I was really glad for that [opportunity]. It was definitely a much-needed morale boost during these crazy, crazy times.”
The region’s small farms have been rocked by the coronavirus, but community support and innovative thinking have enabled many local growers to pivot and persist as they work to find a way forward.
In her recently released debut book, Motherwhelmed: Challenging Norms, Untangling Truths, and Restoring Our Worth to the World, Berry — mother of four daughters, ages 12, 15, 19 and 25 — examines the stressful state of modern motherhood and how an unsupportive culture keeps mothers from thriving.
Eligh Ros, a dual-enrollment 12th grader at Martin L. Nesbitt Jr. Discovery Academy, is on track to graduate as part of the class of 2020 with both a high school diploma and some college credit from A-B Tech. Early this spring, he was busy with classes and multiple club activities, his sights set on studying computer science or engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York in the fall, when he suddenly found his life upended by Gov. Roy Cooper’s March 14 executive order to close schools.
Meagan Taylor and her seven-year-old daughter, Fred, are missing out on hugs and cuddles right now. The two have found themselves forced to face the challenges of the pandemic while living physically apart.
Since late March, Michael Stratton, his wife, Amanda, and a small, hardworking steering committee have managed to transform a 4,000-square-foot grassy field near Fairview Road into 15 neat garden beds, which in mid-April were already speckled with green sprouts of onions, potatoes, kale, chard and more. The group plans to donate the produce to food pantries and neighbors in need due to COVID-19.
“I’m trying to convene people who care in a way that will help the folks who are being left out, because there’s a high percentage of our friends and neighbors who won’t make it.” says Hunter about her work in response to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I feel like right now this COVID virus is forcing people to slow down and, hopefully, look internally and not just at their phones,” says Percoco, the Firefly Gathering’s new executive director. “It’s interesting how something like this can come in and show us how vulnerable we are.”
Kristin Weeks, managing partner and co-owner of the Asheville location of Fifth Season Gardening Co., says business is booming in the wake of COVID-19. “People are coming in and spending a lot more money; the average invoice has gone up, too,” she says. “People are kind of just coming in and going for it.”
As coordinator of Bountiful Cities’ Asheville Buncombe Community Garden Network, Whitaker manages communication, educational programming and resources such as free seed and tool libraries for more than two dozen local gardening efforts. And after COVID-19 began impacting life in Western North Carolina, he’s seen an increase in the number of local residents interested in starting new community gardens.